4x4 AnswerMan: Off-Road Truck and SUV Tech Q&A

Jan. 30, 2014 By Jaime Hernandez
This super clean Riviera Racing Trophy Truck was on display in the Ultra Wheel booth during the Lucas Oil Off-Road Expo, showing off Ultra’s new Xtreme wheel line, available in forged beadlock and cast aluminum applications for truck and SUV.

Have a truck or SUV question for the 4x4 AnswerMan? Send your questions to editor@off-road.com. Please include your name and location, and be as detailed as possible about your questions.

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If you own a Dodge RAM Truck, it may be time to take your pickup down to your local Dodge dealer for an important suspension check-up. Chrysler announced a Safety Recall at the end of 2013, then mailed out official recall letters to owners in December and January for suspension problems. The problem is pretty serious. Here are the highlights:

N62 / NHTSA 13V-528

Chrysler has decided that a defect, which relates to motor vehicle safety, exist in some 2003 through 2008 model year Dodge RAM 1500/2500/3500 series Trucks that had the steering linkage replaced with MOPAR service parts.

The problem is...The left tie rod ball stud on your truck may fracture under certain driving conditions.  This could cause a loss of directional control and/or crash without warning.

If you haven’t received your official recall notice from Chrysler in the mail yet, give your local Dodge RAM dealer a call. They should be able to tell you if your truck is affected by simply running your VIN# or doing a visual inspection on site on the suspension parts in question.

It’s going to take some time to get over a million RAM Trucks worked out, but at least Chrysler is being proactive at fixing the problem. We’ll report back with our very own Project Dodge RAM Mega Cab Safety Recall experience.

Now go grab your truck by the horns!


4x4 AnswerMan,

OMG, this is awesome! I worked for George Bennet back during that time; I was the one who helped designed the Mark1 Puma model that's on that CAD drawing. I was the one who drafted that up, it's all coming back to me like de-ja-vu!

The Puma was a beast and the rear just settled in no matter what you wanted to do, such a good go-fast rail. Wheel was never jittery and car felt safe at 90 mph as much as any rail I've been in. Steady as a rock, turned and carved the sand well. Loved the sequential tranny too.
Chris Koszo
Letter sparked by The Fusion of Great Engineering

Hi Chris,

Thanks for checking in. Glad to hear you found this old sand car story. It sure was a fun car, especially with the Roush motor. We were fortunate enough to test it out at Glamis (Imperial Sand Dunes). It certainly ripped and outshined many of the sand rails of that era over the whoops and Sand Highway. We also had a lot of fun at the sand drags near Gecko Rd. It sure was a crowd pleaser. 

It did take some suspension tuning to get it dialed in, but once it was, WOW. Those Bilstein 9300 Black Hawk shocks worked great. Good times.



4x4 AnswerMan,

This is a pretty good tips/article.                                  

Letter sparked by Trail Tips of Highly Admirable 4-Wheelers

Thanks Matt,

Tom Severin does a great job at 4x4 Training and putting together these helpful 4-wheeling tips. Make sure you sign up for our Off-Road.com Newsletter to make sure you get more of this good stuff (sign-up found on side bar, right side).

If you ever get a chance, we also highly recommend you attend one of Tom’s 4x4 Training classes or trips.  He’s a very knowledgeable when it comes to 4-Wheeling Safety and Training.  More information at http://www.4x4training.com/.



4x4 AnswerMan,

I’m emailing you in regards to the Gearing write up “Toyota Differential Identification.” I have a JT model VIN and my axle code reads A03A which doesn’t exactly cross according to the Japanese vin table.  Just wondering if you had any possible information on this.
Nick Miller

Hello Nick,

The A03A axle code you gave us would translate into a 7.5" with 4.10 gear ratio, open differential.  This is for the front. The matching rear differential would be an 8" with 4.10 gears.

I'm not sure if you have limited slip (LSD), but one easy way to find out is to jack up the rear end on your truck and spin the wheels.  If they spin in the same direction, you have it.  If they spin in opposite directions, your differential is open.

It's been a while since this Toyota Differential tech guide has been updated. I think it's time to give it an overhaul. What do you guys think?



4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a '78 Ramcharger with the 360 but in the works of a 440. I like to play in the mud with her and I keep going through alternators after playing. What is the best way to keep mud and water out of things?
Josh Musgrove


Hi Josh,

There are a few different options to decreasing your chance of failure, but the reality is that alternators are not designed to go under water or through mud. Some veteran boggers swear the GM V8 alternator is the best-sealed, power-making piece of equipment for the mud. You can run one on your Ramcharger, you would just need to modify or make a new bracket.

Other people try to relocate their alternator higher on the engine or swap locations with the A/C Compressor. Some even go as far as making splash guards to keep the mud away from the alternator made from aluminum or fiberglass.

Even with all these options, the alternator still needs some way to breathe so it can stay cool. As of today, there is no 100% waterproof alternator. If you play hard in the mud, chances are you will be replacing alternator often. All you can do is modify and make adjustments to keep the fun going longer. Having a Lifetime Warranty on the parts you buy also doesn’t hurt.

Send us a photo of your mud wagon, we’d love to see it.



Hi there 4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a 1989 Toyota and am having issues with the 4x4.  The 4x4 light comes on and the 4L works, but the 2H and 4H don’t...and the N is in a weird place. I might have taken it up a good steep and stalled it. Could I have done something then?

Christina Marier
British Columbia

Hi Christina,

I’m glad you’re out using your Toyota 4WD and getting dirty.  The fact that you like to climb hills is even better – just make sure to keep the lid right side up. = )

As for your finicky 4WD, it can be a number of things. If the truck is still moving and you didn’t grenade the drivetrain (it would be pretty obvious, both exploding sound and nasty grinding noise after), you should be good. Something might just be out of adjustment.

You mentioned the neutral “N” is now in a weird place. It’s possible the lever may have come out of its socket. There’s a retainer ring that keeps it in place. You should be able to inspect it if that’s the problem by simply removing the boot cover.

While you’re at it, you can also take the lever completely out to inspect the internals from the top. If you see any damage or metal slivers, the problem is going to be well inside the transfer case. This will require a complete disassembly to determine if the gears, shift fork or bearings are bad. Hopefully the lever is just is out of place and can be fixed.

After you get the lever un-stuck, there is a little modification you can do to keep the transfer case lever from popping out of gear in the future.  Marlin Crawler offers a Heavy-Duty Shift Spring that should take care of it.

If you have any more questions, give the guys at Marlin Crawler a call. They’re sure to help you get your transfer case back in working order and have the parts you may need.

Marlin Crawler
(888) 94-CRAWL

Good luck.



4x4 AnswerMan,

Great write up, so helpful - I have 1995 4Runner, turned out to be 55mm Spindle Nut socket

Letter sparked byToyota 4x4 Front Wheel Bearing Service Replacement

Hi Phill,

Thanks for the feedback. Having the special tools for the job will certainly make it easier.  The 55mm wheel bearing socket is a great addition to any tool set, especially when doing wheel maintenance on your Toyota 4WD. In a pinch, we’ve also found using large

Channel Lock pliers will do the trick. Please don’t tell our SAE Mechanic friends we told you about this hack. They’ll ream us for not using the “proper tool.”

Hey, it works and has been done by many both on the trail and the garage. Use if you have it, improvise if you don’t. = )



4x4 AnswerMan,

The inner bearing doesn't need to be pressed onto the spindle? I'm having trouble getting the hub and rotor assembly back onto the axle, because of the inner bearing not slipping over the lip. 87 SR5 pickup 4WD manual locking hubs.

Cody Schneider

Letter sparked by Toyota 4x4 Front Wheel Bearing Service Replacement

Hi Cody,

You should be able to simply hammer in the bearing into the hub. No need to press it in.  The hub should just slide onto the spindle.

If you’re having that much trouble putting it on, there’s a slight chance you may have been given the wrong bearing. It happens. 

We recommend you compare the old bearing with the new one. If the new one is a larger diameter, or the inside won’t clear the spindle—there’s your problem. Take it back to the auto parts store and have them give you a new one.

You’ll be back on the trail in no time.




Very simple to do for around $350. Don't keep replacing your rotors with stock, upgrade to ‘06 Tundra and you will be thankful you did. Note: Using tin snips on the top and bottom end of the dust cover is much quicker. Use a Dremel for curvature on the dust cover.


Letter sparked by Gen 3 Toyota 4Runner Tundra Brake Swap

Hi Rabatvilla,

Thanks for the tip. It’s amazing how many ways there are to approaching a project. If the end result gets you massive stopping power for your rig without breaking the bank, I’m all for it. This Toyota Tundra brake swap done my Mr. Justin Fort is an excellent modification. I’ve been in his rig and the thing can stop on a dime—avoiding boulders the size of Volkswagens, falling down on us from the cliffs above. It’s a true story.

The Tundra big brake swap is especially good when dealing with larger off-road tires and more demanding terrain.

Kudos for the find, Rabatvilla.



4x4 AnswerMan,

I’m slowly rebuilding a very nice 4Runner and going to tackle leaking power steering pump and leaking gearbox. Struggling to find tips of things I may run into or how to do it the most efficient manner. Did rotors this weekend 5 hours on first side 2 hours on second, tips, video or diagram would have saved me a ton of time. Any help would be appreciated.

Thank you

Hi Jay,

Glad to hear you’re wrenching and getting to know your rig a little better. The hardest part is getting started, but it sounds like you’re already well on your way.

One of the best things you can do is to buy the service repair manual for your vehicle.  Books published by Hayes or Chilton do a good job at illustrating and giving steps to completing repairs and will only set you back about $25. They’re pretty straight forward and to the point. You can pick one up at your local auto parts store or Amazon. 

You can certainly supplement the manual with How-To videos on YouTube, tech on Toyota Truck forums and tech articles, such as the ones found here on Off-Road.com.

By the way, if you haven’t tried this already, Lucas Oil makes some Stop Leak product that works great. It eliminates hard spots and stops seal leaks for your power steering pump and gear box. More info at http://www.lucasoil.com/.

Make sure to give us an update and send some photos of your 4Runner. We’d love to see it playing in the dirt.


Hey 4x4 AnswerMan,

I am contacting you for a couple of questions. I am wanting to convert my 2WD 1999 4Runner into a 4x4. Is this possible? And if so how much would I be looking at to spending?

Justin Addy

Hi Justin,

You can certainly modify your 2Runner into a 4WD. This will require getting a complete front suspension assembly from an IFS 1996 - 2002 Toyota 4Runner 4WD. You will also need a Transfer case and 4WD Transmission to go along with that. If you can swap out the wiring harness so everything works together, even better. It really is a big job.

The other option is to do a straight axle conversion (a.k.a. SAS). There are a few outfits out there that have complete kits ready to bolt up or weld. You may also piece your own together using early Toyota pick-up front axle or custom housing. This is usually the route rock crawlers and hard-core wheelers take. One of the companies that has a proven SAS suspension system for your Toyota 4Runner is All-Pro Off Road. Their kit starts at $1,299.  More info at http://www.allprooffroad.com.

In all reality, if you can’t find a cheap, junked 4Runner to take the IFS parts from, it’s going to get expensive real fast. If your heart is set on a 4WD, you may be better off selling your 2WD and buying a 4WD 4Runner.

If you have the money, and were planning on ditching the IFS anyway, keep your 2WD and do the SAS conversion.

Have a truck or SUV question for the 4x4 AnswerMan? Send your questions to editor@off-road.com. Please include your name and location, and be as detailed as possible about your questions.

More 4x4 AnswerMan Columns
December 2013

November 2013

October 2013

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